Granted, Jackson County’s most crucial rounds of golf will come at the end of the season. But coach Warren Standridge couldn’t have asked for a better start.
The Panthers are off to a 10-1 start and finished fourth in a 10-team tournament at Hart County this past Friday. Thomas Whitley set the school record with a round of 34 March 14 (and then tied it Wednesday against Apalachee) as the highlights keep coming for this group.
“It’s been exciting,” Standridge said. “The main thing was to build off of last year, because we didn’t lose anybody off last year’s team. We didn’t want to come out this year and kind of be starting over. We wanted to come out and start posting some lower scores right off the bat.”
Jackson County, coming off an 18-3 season a year ago, missed tying the team record — a 159, set last year — last Wednesday when it posted a 160. The Panthers followed that up with the fourth-place finish at Hart County, where the only school to finished ahead of Jackson County was North Oconee.
“I think in the last week and a half, we’re really starting to get better,” Standridge said. “The kids are working hard. Everyday they’re on the range and they’re chipping and putting. I just can’t ask for any more out of them. Hopefully, it will get us to where we need to go.”
Standridge noted that the Hart County tournament was “like a mini-region tournament” though some non-8-AA teams were there. North Oconee’s no. 1 and 2 teams finished first and second with rounds of 155 and 158 respectively. Jackson County (165) finished 10 strokes off the lead.
“I still think we’ll close the gap,” Standridge said. “I think we’ll be OK.”
Oglethorpe County has been touted as the next-best team to North Oconee, but Jackson County finished ahead of the Patriots by five shots.
“That made me feel really good about where we’re at and what we’re doing,” Standridge said.
One of Jackson County’s major weapons is its balance.
Three different golfers — Whitley, York Delloyd and River Bryant — have led the Panthers in scoring in at least one match. Then there’s the team’s lone senior, Jarred Scott, who has been the model of consistency.
Stanridge explains the luxury of having that kind of depth.
“Maybe your no. 1 comes in and he’s not done so well, but you can just count on those other scores that you know are going to come in,” Standridge said.
In fact, Standridge said the team probably has eight golfers “that are contributing and doing everything right.”
With the season at its mid-point, there’s still plenty of time for records to fall.
The individual scoring record already has, with Whitley shooting a 34 in the Panthers win March 14 over Elbert County and then again March 21 against Apalachee.
“That was awesome,” Standridge said. “That’s been a long time coming for him. He’s battled through some injuries and he’s still injured and I think may have to have surgery on his hand at the end of golf season.”
Of course, Whitley beat his own teammate’s record. York Delloyd set the school mark last year with a 35. That sets up some pretty fierce competition within the team.
“They kind of take it personally against one another and do their best,” Standridge said. “That works out to my benefit.”
Then there’s the team record of 159 that’s nearly been eclipsed multiple times this year.
“The thing about that is, it’s four scores under 40 basically,” Standridge said. “And that’s tough to do.”
The coach believes that mark will fall this year.
“I think we’ll get it,” Stanridge said. “If we don’t, I think we’ll get it next year. But the bottom line is that you can’t ask them to work any harder because they’re out here everyday doing what they need to do.”
Jackson County’s upcoming stretch will demand that level of focus.
The team has 18-hole tournament matches at White County Saturday (which will feature 40 teams) and Gainesville Monday. Jackson County then plays in the County championships Tuesday and has added Wednesday matches against Oglethorpe County and Hart County.
That’s certainly a busy slate, but that’s the point.
“I think we need to put a little pressure on them,” Standridge said. “I felt like going into this year, we needed to add some tournaments and get our guys in that kind of mode. I think region brings that out in you, so we wanted to get prepared for region.”
Of course, all this is preparation for the teams’ biggest goal — qualifying for state.
“I think that was the first goal we set at the beginning of the year. Seeing as golf is the only sport that doesn’t take four (teams from each region), it just makes it a lot more difficult.”
Standridge believes his team would have finished in top seven or eight last year “just shooting an average score.” He would love to see what his group could do against the rest of Class AA.
“We’ve just got to be able to get there,” Standridge said.